George Miller '40
Still solving tough problems at 90
At 90, George Miller has been tackling industry problems in chemical engineering and physics for decades. “My principal interest now is energy and the water problems of the world,” he says. Potable Water Systems, the six-year-old company he runs with his wife, Luisa Kling Miller, in Houston, has patents pending for a fast, inexpensive way to detoxify water contaminated by oil and gas drilling.
Miller began his water research some 40 years ago during the Vietnam War, when he worked with U.S. Army and medical teams that were trying to combat disease by killing water-borne microbes. “In tropical areas, it has not snowed in millions of years, so it’s like an oven, a laboratory for microbes,” he says. Miller’s solution harked back several thousand years, to Herodotus’s stories of the Persians who invaded India carrying water supplies in silver casks. He added silver ions to an existing chlorine-based purification method, making it effective.
Miller’s global adventures began early. At 14, he left his American father and Colombian mother at home in Bogotá, Colombia, to live with family friends in Boston. Their son was also interested in attending MIT. The boys took the entrance exam, and Miller placed in the top five, thus earning a scholarship to enter the Institute at 16. Because returning home took so long, he stayed on campus during summers and holidays and helped professors with their work.
“I became a sort of pet,” Miller says. On weekends, he visited with legends such as Karl Compton and Vannevar Bush. In 1939, when Compton was asked to use MIT’s cyclotron to repeat a European experiment creating an atomic reaction using low-speed neutrons, Miller lugged the cyclotron to a test chamber. When it would not fit in the door, he helped set up America’s first atomic fission experiment in the hallway. It worked.
After MIT, Miller returned to Colombia, taught for a few years at the national university, and then became a consulting engineer, based first in Latin America and later in New York. In the 1970s, he worked with German university researchers to develop electrolytic water purification systems. He holds more than 40 patents in fields as diverse as aeronautics and pigments.
Miller met the love of his life in 1971, but she was, unfortunately, married. When Luisa divorced in 1991, he romanced her, and they wed in 1996. “I have been very lucky,” he says.